The lights of the theater dim. Chattering voices hush, people turning towards the stage in excitement. Silence is suspended over the still seats, broken by thunderous applause as Isabella Egawa ’18 (Harriton) walks on the stage and begins to tune the orchestra. She sits as the conductor makes his way to the podium. The air is thick with anticipation as he raises his arms, pauses, takes a breath, and flicks the baton to launch the first note into the air.
On April 19, four LMSD students boarded a small van with their instruments and band teacher, Joshua Cooperstein, and drove up to McDowell Intermediate High School in the Lake Erie area to participate in the Pennsylvania Music Educator Association All-State Orchestra (PMEA). The festival lasts three days and consists of non-stop rehearsals followed by a concert. The repertoire is very difficult and includes pieces such as the Fifth Symphony, composed by Dmitri Shostakovich, affectionately dubbed “Shosty,” a piece that several students named as their favorite. To have the ability to play in All-States is extremely challenging, as the PMEA music festivals are an audition-based, selective process beginning with the district level orchestra. Students are given a score based on several combined aspects of their audition, and the top-ranking half of musicians in each of the twelve district ensembles in Pennsylvania are combined with one other neighboring district into six regional orchestras. From each regional orchestra, the best six to ten scorers move on to the state orchestra, re-auditioning at every level. This system does have its flaws, as Grace Wei ’19 (LM), a violinist, points out: “it only measures how good you are at auditioning and many people can vary between nailing or bombing an audition.” However, it still does measure the skill of a musician. Not only have several LMSD students earned this top honor, they have also proven themselves to be some of the best on the state level. Egawa was the top-scoring violinist in the state and earned the role of concertmaster, with Wei as a close second as the associate principal. Anthony Zhu ’18 (Harriton) of the viola section merited fourth chair and Etienne Kambara ’17 (LM) led the French horns as their principal. Several of these students also plan on auditioning for the national level orchestra, with Egawa having participated last year. All have been playing in youth orchestras outside of school for some time. Egawa, Wei, and Kambara all play for the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, and Zhu is a member of the Delaware County Youth Orchestra.
Each of these students have been playing an instrument for nine to twelve years, and all credit their success to practice, practice, practice, and a love for music. Kambara detailed his preparation for the PMEA auditions, saying that he “listened to recordings, practiced études for all the aspects [he] found difficult, and practiced the excerpts until [he] could play them without mistakes several times in a row.” These students have spent hours preparing, which paid off in the form of several extraordinary musical achievements. They have participated in countless musical competitions and programs similar to the Tri-County Concerts Association Youth Festival, or in Egawa’s case, the international Verbier Music Festival held in Switzerland and the NYO-USA. She names the Verbier Festival, of which she was associate principal, as her favorite orchestra because “all the people around [her] were friendly, not competitive, and amazing players who were just passionate about music.”
These exceptional musicians have all participated in several prestigious musical ensembles, but they all cite their continued excitement and enthusiasm for the music groups offered by LMSD. They praised their teachers for being encouraging and entertaining, and described the classes as fun and relatively challenging. Zhu describes the exceptionality of the LMSD music programs by their “large degree of support that they give to musicians in a time where many music programs are under attack due to budget slashes.” Kambara lists his orchestra class as his favorite part of the day and Egawa and Wei both assert their appreciation for the difficulty of and care put into the music programs by both the district and its teachers. Wei says that “many may not be cognizant of the importance of music, but it’s great LMSD is making an effort to make it available across so many schools.”
Not all of these students plan on playing music professionally, although graduating senior Kambara is, but they are considering a double major or recreational hobby at the very least. None plan on quitting anytime soon, as music has been such a big influence on their lives. Zhu relates his experience with music as “a continuous journey of experiences and learning opportunities.” These students are bright both inside the classroom and out, but they shine brighter than a freshly polished tuba under the lights of Verizon Hall, when they have their instruments in hand, ready to dazzle a theater of sold-out seats. These incredible four musicians are truly something this district should be proud of.